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EU And Britain May Be Making Headway In Brexit Negotiations


Could it really be happening? Could a Brexit deal be on the horizon? The European Union's Brexit negotiator says with goodwill on both sides, an agreement on Britain's departure from the European Union is, quote, "within reach." And this comes ahead of a very important summit in Brussels next week. Lotta Nymann-Lindegren is a former diplomat who worked on the Brexit negotiations for both Finland and the EU. She is in Brussels. She joins me on Skype right now.

Good morning.


GREENE: So is this for real? I know we've heard that the two sides have been close to something, and negotiations have kind of fallen apart. What makes this moment feel different, if at all?

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: I think it is for real. And one of the things that makes it different is, of course, that the time is getting very nigh. So...

GREENE: They have no choice.

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: There is no choice to get a deal. The deal is also the prerequisite for any sort of transition period. So if there is no deal, then everything is going to happen overnight. So I think both sides have a very great interest in a deal. And then I think the second thing...

GREENE: What is the deadline?

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: The deadline - I mean, Brexit is going to take place at the end of March. But before that, you're going to have to ratify the deal in all 27 EU Parliaments and the British Parliament and the European Parliament, and you have to translate it and process it. So you would have to be ready during November, I think, for it to be feasible to pull through in good time.

GREENE: You have to translate this thing into, like, two dozen different languages...


GREENE: ...Which I could see taking a lot of time.

OK. You were going to say there's a second reason that you think it's actually happening now.

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: Yeah, I think the second reason is that the - I mean, one of the big problems in these negotiations from the beginning has been that it's taken U.K. so long to arrive to any position. And it's been negotiating just as much with itself as it has with the EU. But this summer, we actually got this so-called Chequers proposal from the U.K. prime minister, when it was the first time that they actually made a comprehensive package of how they see themselves leaving and what the new relationship could be. And although the Chequers deal was not acceptable as such, I think it was really important that there was a basis for negotiations to go forward. So...

GREENE: A lot of people in Europe were just telling the U.K. - just come up with something, so we can get started and actually start working on something concrete.

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: Exactly. It's been extremely frustrating, I think, for many parties.

GREENE: Can I ask you about one sticking point?


GREENE: There is this determination to avoid a hard border between Ireland, which is part of the EU, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. Can you just remind us why that is so important, not to have a hard border there?

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: I think many people in Europe forget how recently, actually, the real peace settlement was made in regard to Northern Ireland. This is all about the so-called Good Friday Agreement, the peace agreement between the U.K. and the Irish governments. And many of these elements depend on the fact that both areas are part of the EU.

So if you think about the free movement of people or goods across the border, of people being able to live where they want, all of these elements which have to do with the integration of the area - they are about the EU. And now, when and if Northern Ireland is leaving, there is a real risk that what is happening on the ground can hamper the implementation of this agreement. And it can possibly cause a lot of conflict locally.

GREENE: And one more question - we just have a few seconds left. But I mean, there's been talk of maybe a new referendum and the U.K. backing out of Brexit if there were a vote. Would the EU take Britain back?

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: The EU - I mean, the U.K. is still a member of the EU. But it's not the same member state that it was two years ago. I think a lot of china has been broken during these negotiations.

GREENE: A lot of china - you describe it like a divorce. That's pretty funny. Sadly, you're out of time, and we have to stop there. Lotta Nymann-Lindegren is a former diplomat who worked on the Brexit negotiations.

Thanks a lot.

NYMANN-LINDEGREN: Thank you so much. [POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this report, Lotta Nymann-Lindegren misspoke about the year the Good Friday Agreement was reached. It was 1998, not 1989.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 10, 2018 at 11:00 PM CDT
In an earlier version of this report, Lotta Nymann-Lindegren misspoke about the year the Good Friday Agreement was reached. It was 1998, not 1989.